Into the wee hours of the morning I was mesmerized by a Masterclass conducted by Dimitri Bashkirov at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, Paris, France. The great Russian virtuoso and teacher, a descendant of the Leschetizky era by his student association with the legendary piano master’s wife, communicated in Russian with a third-party French translator. But no language barrier existed that required an interpreter. Bashkirov’s physical gestures, conducting motions, and singing were ample expressions of a universal musical language.
The ongoing French translation and a few cameo appearances made by a woman who rattled off promotions for the Event sponsored by Arcadia Musica, were the only annoying distractions.
A Yamaha grand piano sounding a bit too angular and brassy to communicate Brahms Fantasies, Op. 116, was artfully handled by student, Nathanael Gouin, who did his best to work his way around the instrument’s limitations. Bashkirov’s overtly rounded arm motions helped him overcome any tendency toward percussive playing and at one point the singer/conductor/player wrapped into one, pressed his hands against the student’s back to illustrate a supple wrist total weight-charged entry into chords. His directions were perfectly transmitted sans Francais.
Bashkirov’s teaching and playing have an Old World flavor. His perception of the piano as an orchestra with immense voicing and color capabilities is revealed in his recordings. If there’s a Russian School of playing, as epitomized in the artistry of Richter and Gilels, I see a tie in here:
To conclude here are excerpts from William Boone’s interview with Bashkirov (Italics and bold emphases are mine)
Utrecht, 24 October 2003
“Although he won a major piano competition (Marguérite Long/Jacques Thibaud) in Paris in 1955, Dmitri Bashkirov is not best known as a concert pianist. He suffered from the severe Soviet regime and was not allowed to travel abroad until the early 90’s. However, in the meantime, he gave many concerts in his native Russia and built a solid reputation as a teacher who trained many famous, sometimes internationally acclaimed pianists such as Arcadi Volodos, Nikolai Demidenko and Jonathan Gilad. He currently teaches at the Queen Sofia Academy in Madrid. He also gives worldwide master classes. I attended a few of his lessons between 21 and 23 October 2003, when he visited Muziekcentrum Vredenburg in Utrecht….”
“Bashkirov emphasized what counted most for him; absolute fidelity to the printed score(s) and consistent ideas about tempi. He frequently stopped students to point out that Chopin or Liszt (to whom his master classes were dedicated) hadn’t written any change of tempi in their scores. He was genuinely surprised when a Russian student, who had just played Chopin’s 4th Scherzo in a very whimsical way, asked him: “But do you want to hear all the notes?
“On the other hand, he was sometimes flexible and acknowledged that pianists were allowed to freely interpret indications like “piano”or “forte”in a score, as long as they realized what a composer had originally written down. He emphasized that such indications can sometimes be relative and only get their true sense in the context of an entire composition.
“Furthermore, he put a lot of emphasis on the harmonic aspects of a composition. With a lot of pianists, left hand passages in Chopin’s and Liszt’s music tend to remain unnoticed. Bashkirov showed that you should not just play the melody, but that you should above all emphasize the harmonic audacities of both Chopin’s and Liszt’s writing.
“His diverse knowledge was impressive. He was particularly able to convey compositional elements in Liszt’s music and how these should be reflected in the interpretation. He explained for example how the last bars of the transcription “Auf dem Wasser zu singen”(after a song by Schubert) should sound “clear as water”. To another student who started the Etude “Chasse Neige”, inspired by falling snow flakes with great effect, he said: “Why do you play with so much emotion? This piece is about nature!”
“Of course he made a lot of other interesting comments, that proved useful for students or amateur pianists.
* Never play a recurrent motive the same way twice.
* When you phrase, always think of the last note, because this will enable you to see the phrase as an arch or build up tension.
* Try to always hear the sound inside yourself, play with your ears instead of your fingers.
* Always play with color and imagination, there is not one “piano”or one “forte,” there are 40 different “fortes”or “pianos.”
* A pianist has to make a piano sing. If you move your hand forward on the touches, you will get a more beautiful cantabile sound.”